ON ENTHUSIASM versus HUMAN NATURE
THINGS are not alw ays what they seem, as two aireraftsmen in a West Country town discovered some time ago, when, ” fed up with street-corner pubs,” they were advised to try ” The Queen’s,” through the swing doors of which they unsteadily penetrated, to be confronted in the palatial entrance hall by quite the sternest W.A.A.F. commandant of a commandeered premises they had ever seen. This is especially true these days of men and their motors. From a low-performance or no-performance saloon may step a well-known racing driver, while in the cockpit of a familiar racing car a garage hand will as likely as not be cursing the Fates for landing him the unwanted occupation of moving a car the owner of which is far too busy working in his country’s interest to move it himself. to a place of safety or to his new location. We must all work hard if the day is net to be too far distant when we can look forward to seeing racing cars in action again and cease to regard them, as the wife of a well-known sportsman has it, as “one of those things we may never need.” Not, of course, that She is serious, although misplaced patriotism is ever ready to misconstrue British humour. Actually, there are very few able-bodied people these days who cannot help the war effort in some way or other, whether they are on or off duty. I had intended, during a recent Short leave, to set down a few random observations on why some people buy one sort of car and some quite another sort, and why not very many enthusiasts operate the Stark kind of Car they might be expected to run. However, I spent .my leave touring R.A.F. aerodromes with a friend who was on business bent, and I found that there was so much to do on this short “busman’s holiday ” that I had no time for more than a very limited spot of editing of other people’s excellent and indispensable contributions to this paper. The evenings, when busy folk might be expected to relax somewhat, you now spend combing provincial and country towns for somewhere to sleep, for nearly every available source of accommodation is taken by the military, by civilian war-workers and by dodgers of possible bombs. So much i so that in one big town not SO very far from London we all but missed seeing Walt Disney’s ” Reluctant Dragon,” which would have been a pity indeed. However, the opportunity now arises to set down some of these thoughts, for better or for Worse. Study of the “Cars I Have Owned” articles, which we have been publishing and which are so readily forthcoming, provide much of the food for thought on this subject, because, in my own case, before the war I was in the fortunate position of being able to drive most of the modern, up-to-date fast cars so that personal transport requirements could be satisfactorily met by utility types—not necessarily of the entirely conventional kind. It is only latterly that the need of a 70-m.p.h.-cruising, at least 80-m.p.h.-maximum, sports car has become evident, alas! at a period when the need to economise fuel, the lack of opportunity for seeking and inspecting suitable cars, and the repressive aspect of having truly enjoyable motoring limited by the coupon nightmare, prompts the retention of humble, reliable little cars. How one envies those who do extensive officialduty mileage in sports ears that were in sufficiently good health when war came to be put forward as decently reliable duty-transport I
Regarding the thing from a peace-time standpoint, surprise is felt, and requires to be explained away, as to why so few apparently dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts ran stark, performance-first cars of truly thoroughbred outline and character, Every so often—maybe it goes in cycles— I experience a desire to own a car with all frills unnecessary to cruising at, at least. 70 m.p.h. removed. One visualises a Frazer-Nash chassis, with something like an A.C. Six power unit, mounting two bucket seats and a bolster fuel tank over the ehains, and precious little else. Variants come readily to mind—a modern Hillman or’ Vauxhall Fourteen engine for performanee with reliability, or a Riley Six to get below -If litres, or. perhaps our old friend the push-rod four-Cylinder Meadows to help the job along and uphold vintage traditions at one and the same time. Vet one does not lift so much as a little finger to commence construction. Why ? Purely personal aspects apart. I think the answer is the considerable expenditure necessary, in money where new or second-hand vehicles are conterned and in time as well when it is a question of building up a “Special.” In this country motoring has always been an expensive pursuit, and never more so than at the present. Consequently, your youthful enthusiast, very keen to own a• stark motor-car of vivid performance, is limited to a sober sort of ‘contrivance. Possibly he gets a speedometer mile-a-minute out of a doctored Austin Sevens or even greater gallop from a decidedly elderly Morgan, but he will invariably do so at the expense of reliability, decent comfort and convenience.
At a time of life when the social and entertainment value of car-ownership is very readily appreciated, the hottestheaded enthusiast is soon apt to take a very plain view of continual breakdowns at inconvenient times and localities, frequent reluctance on the part of his car to commence functioning at the word of command, and repeated drenchings due to bodywork either conspicuous by its absence or entirely lacking in effective element -insulation. For a time, the owner feels his energies and exiwiidit tires should he directed towards something saner, which is why firms like flow laud Smith kept a goodly stock of Al-type M.G.s. ” Porlock ” Singer Juniors and sports Austin Sevens on the:r books in peace time. I cannot help feeling that the transference of the enthusiast’s affections from two bucket seats on a chassis to a chassis hidden beneath pneumatic cushions, hood and side screens is closely related to the warped judgment of England’s young women, who regard any young man who dons shorts and gets covered in slime playing Rugby football as some sort of a hero, but who express undisguised scorn at clothes well lubricated with oil mist from a hoMe-tuned engine of a quite decently potent motorear. Doubtless we are to blame, for charm and beauty is not expected to share the mud, whereas oil mist seldom differentiates
between driver and passenger ! The motor-cyclist and his pillion fairy I leave to social psychologists to explain away. Be that as it may, the sports car is invariably replaced by something less fierce. A business career, perhaps, or some like factor makes remote the day when the pukka enthusiast’s car can again be contemplated. If your enthusiast has meanwhile embarked on an engineering career he will see in a new light the technical problems involved in going fast in the desirable manner while courting a reasonable measure of dependability, so that the task of ” Special ” construction is likely to be postponed even longer. YOH may say that the trite enthusiast will surely own a real car at all costs, even if he runs something humble as a hack. The thought of an enthusiast going about his business in an old Austin Seven or elderly Jowett that he may spend his eessy penny on occasionally dicing in a G. P. Bugat ti is indeed a splendid thought ; it is also asking a lot of human nature.. . . Mostly your G.P. Bugatti owner does his ordinary motoring in a Type 57 or a Rolls-Bentley. . . . The fact is that the car plays such a very big part in our everyday existence that even those who are able to differentiate between automobiles and motor-cars Jim! it hard to sacrifice too much on the altar of stark perforMance.
The Government does its very best to encourage the utility motoring outlook by taxing private motoring so very heavily. If a tax rebate eould be had on a second car in use at the same time as another vehicle, the enthusiast would have more scope ; but, as things are, a car on the road seems a greater asset than a car just about to be ready fisr the road. That., I think, is the real reason why, although this country is by no means lacking in enthusiasts, the roads are chock-a-block with little boxes, are fairly well populated by high-performance devices and are not infrequently enlivened by sports ears— but are only very occasionally shattered by the passage of really lag ears devoid Of all excess equipment that does not contribute to sheer performance. If your once-youthful enthusiast strikes the road to success or has usefully rich parents he is even less likely to run such a car, because soinething of that sort., one has to admit, seems somewhat silly when you can do 13u m.p.h. in a car like a Bugatti Elektron coupe. . . . Certainly young men like Charles Martin and (buries-theBrack, and Kenneth Evans and the late Richard Shuttleworth ran very stark motor-cars indeed—but they were ears without passenger iccoininodation and they had their fun at plates, which you may just remember, like Brooklands and Donington. All this is apt to make you a little sick at times, when you reflect that not such a terribly long time ago all motoring was of the stark variety, even if you tried to forget that it was so and used the car to meet the girl-friend, or take your fiancee for a drive or to get home on leave, or what have you. For the impecunious owner, at all events, this was the ease even for the first few years after the (‘Jul of that war promoted to end all wars. I have owned early small cars long after they were current models. I have known the humiliation of being left in a cinema car park long after all the hermetically scaled boxes have purred away, and I have abandoned a car miles from home because three of its four wheels had shed their tyres all within a few miles. I have changed my entire wearing apparel thrice in an evening in deference to Jupiter Pluvius and I have been taken to task by a policeman at the Bank for emitting too much smoke from the exhaust of a splash-fed engine—all of which is no reflection at all on my present very excellent seventeen-year-old ” Eight .” But certainly I have never encountered anything like the trials and tribulations that the so-called pioneers of the late 1910’s and early 1920’s experienced in their everyday jounieyiiigs, on their lawful and unlawful occasions, in ears of the quaintly-termed ” New Motoring.” So are we not terribly pampered to-day ? And these early motorists did do it. in largish Slices and big doses, for a pre-1914 aviator of my acquaintance tells me that he used to think nothing of coming from the Midlands to the Hampshire town where I am myself now stationed for a business conference, returning the same day, in 1914 or thereabouts, in a V-twin Humberette, of the sort a friend has left in my garage until such time as he can rebuild its hack axle—not that we intend to venture far in it even then And someone wrote only a quite brief letter to The Autocar in 1914) to say he laid done 616 miles in 48 hours in a 1915 Ford taxi during a recent strike. Think of that, when next you wind up your sliding windows and set the dual screen wipers in motion
Of course, enthusiasts of real dyed-inthe-wool calibre do exist, as witness the doings of the Vintage Sports Car Club, whose menibers’ motors were mostly stark and exciting in the extreme—all praise to the original commit tee for finding 400 or so followers of’ the cult. But even there, Many (it these vintagents only motored excitin?dy as an interlude from the other sort, as our ” Cars I flaw Owned ” articles sometimes emphasise. What will happen after this war is won is a matter for speculation. Young men Imred with wartime routine in offices and fact ones and other young men finding a spark-advance lever better substitute for a gun-firing button than a directionindicator switch may seek to achieve their 90 m.p.h. behind an aero-screen and strapped-down bonnet as frequently as it is safe to do so. How many will be able to do so and also enjoy the social advantages of a self-propelled glasshouse depend on whether the existing lunatic taxation system is eased. Whether there will he prolonged demand for cars which go like a motor from Bourne one moment and become a mere portable test bench containing, an advanced style of engine the next, I do not profess to know. Whether any of us will be able to work
remuneratively enough to look beyond cars of the M.G. “T ” Midget and Morgan ” 4/4 ” type to things like Squires and Aston-Martins and Atalantas and H.R.G.s again I do not know. I can only hope that facilities will be granted to rich sportsmen to motor a routrance, over closed circuits towards a chequered flag. I dare to hope that, in addition, a victorious mechanized Army and a supreme Air Force will make the whole of our little island motor-conscious to a degree hitherto unknown, so that young men will be encouraged to regard motoring as a sport rather than as a pastime, and one wit ich young women now of the A.T.S., V.A.N X. and W.A.A.F.—not forgetting those girls who have quietly taken over the daily handling of delivery vans and even quite bulky lorries, every bit as expeditiously as their sisters in the f-:erviceS, I suspect with not half the raining—will share with their -menfolk. It such a time comes, cars able to cruise at 70 m.p.h. and attain at least 80 m.p.h.
will be in very large demand. Even if Government encouragement is not forthcoming after the war, and the world is not full of ex-tank drivers doing their 90 m.p.h. up and down our narrow North Road, we can hope that fast cars with good handling propensities will be in the ascendant. The pooling of resources —under which scheme it is apparently necessary to term One’s combined selves Seuderia of the Something or Other—offers a possible -solution to those Continued on page 87 of limited means. Sports cars will doubtless be popular, even if practical considerations temper their type, outline and performance. Streamline closed bodywork obviously has a big future, as all who heard Laurence Pomeroy’s wickedlytrue observations to the I.A.E. on Continental cars in particular and streamlining in general will realise. The type of car a man chooses to a very marked extent reflects his character and personality. Nevertheless, over a period of years many makes will come up for ownership, so maybe bodywork is more closely thus related. My own choice is for a closed car on Lancia Aprilia lines, if you cannot have that aero-screen. The cost of motoring is so heavy that it seems illogical not to have as many seats as possible, except on one’s honeymoon. In any case, a 2-seater, coupe or otherwise, with dickey, isn’t so good when one’s friend has to be out in the beastliness while you and your wife and his wife are sheltered by the hood. And only the very best tourers are rattle-proof with all the element-excluders erect, and second-hand ones usually haven’t any excluders at all, because they have blown inside out or to pieces ages ago. But it’s each one his own requirements. I know someone who insists on sports 2-seaters, but they have to have a hole in the tail—to accommodate the dog. . . One young lady uses a 4-seater M.G. while a more presentable 2-seater M.G. stays in the garage, which she explains to puzzled friends as simply a matter of having somewhere to put the luggage and oddments. John Ogle would probably tell us that saloons are all right, but not as a sounding-box for chain transmission, and I wonder if, for the same reason, an open Mercedes may not be preferable to a closed one when, as Bunny Tubbs would say, the puffingcogs have been engaged—although, for all that, personally I would prefer it to certain British coffins or any amount of Yank tinware. However, possibly I’ve overdone this question of car types and owner-personality, for a REAL enthusiast, more cynical than I, when I put it to him how interesting are the different sorts of cars the public buys and the reasons for their choice, said : “Is it ? I thought they all bought little sardine tins “1
VINTAGE POSTBAG cont., November 1960
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